Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Baseball's unofficial second half has begun, and the Red Sox answered the bell by reeling off four consecutive losses to the Angles.
Including their loss to the Yankees before the All Star break began, Boston has now dropped five straight games.
The Sox are in last place in the American League East, nine games out of first place, and are tied for 11th in the wild-card hunt, 8 1/2 games back.
But here's all you really need to know: The Sox are presently tied with Seattle for the worst record in the American League.
In short, the Sox' season is over before July has even ended. That's frustrating and highly disappointing.
After all, Boston has the highest payroll in club history ($184.3 million), and the highest ticket prices in baseball. Yet, the team is headed for its third last-place finish in four years.
Ask yourself this: Given the underperforming veterans with long-term contracts, and the young players the Red Sox are trying to build around, how different will this team look next season?
My guess is that, pitching aside, the anemic lineup will look much the same.
There will be a new first baseman, replacing Mike Napoli, but the infield will remain otherwise intact. The Sox are stuck with Pablo Sandoval and can only hope for a bounce back season in 2016.
However, Sandoval's OPS had declined for four consecutive seasons — and five out of the last six — before GM Ben Cherington signed him in the offseason. The steadily declining OPS was a flashing warning signal, and it should have given Cherington pause. But the GM went full steam ahead and signed the "Panda" anyway.
Sandoval's OPS has now declined for five straight seasons, and he's only 28. No other team wants the overpaid, overweight third baseman.
Furthermore, Sandoval already has 12 errors so far this season, and one more will tie him for the second most in his career. There are still more than two months to go.
The Sox are stuck with Sandoval and his $95 million contract for four more seasons, and they can only hope he finds some magic elixir to turn around his tumbling career.
The same can be said of Hanley Ramirez, who is nothing more than an overpaid DH at this point. The problem is, the Red Sox have David Ortiz under contract next season, leaving no room for the one-dimensional Ramirez.
Once again, Ben Cherington should have known better than to sign Remirez. The former Sox' prospect had lost too much range to still play shortstop, so the Red Sox attempted to convert him to a left fielder at the age of 31.
Simply put, this experiment has been an expensive disaster. Ramirez typically looks like a little leaguer in left; utterly lost and hopeless at the Major League level. He is neither agile or athletic.
Ramirez's only value is his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. He has 19 homers this season, which looks really good at first sight. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize just how truly one-dimensional he is.
Ramirez has just 80 hits this season, meaning that a quarter of his those hits are homers. To be clear, that's not a good thing. Ramirez has just 26 extra-base hits this year, and 19 of them are home runs. Did I mention that he's one-dimensional? If he's not hitting the occasional home run, he's useless.
Negative reputation aside, the Red Sox are stuck with Ramirez for three more years at $22 million per season, with a vesting option for 2019. Quite simply, he is an albatross.
Understand that no other team wants him. He is a position-less player, meaning he is suited only to DH. That means he's an American League player only, leaving just 14 other potential teams for his services.
Unless the Red Sox are willing to pay most of Ramirez's contract to have him play against them multiple times per year for the next three or four years, he is their problem for the rest of his ridiculous contract.
No matter what, you can cross off a number of AL clubs from the list of potential trade partners.
Ramirez carries a .261/.306/.474 slash line. His average and OBP are unacceptable for a player with his huge salary, and while the slugging percentage is decent, it is merely the by-product of having 19 home runs. A player with 19 home runs should have an OPS over .500, but Ramirez can't hit doubles.
Mookie Betts is a center piece of the Red Sox' future plans. He'll be back in center next season.
Shane Victorino will be gone, and he'll be replaced by either $72 million minor leaguer Rusney Castillo, or Alejandro De Aza in 2016.
De Aza has been a revelation this year, posting a .310/.352/.550/.902 slash line in 34 games with the Red Sox. Who wouldn't rather see him in left field every day instead of Ramirez?
But then there's Jackie Bradley, who was the Sox' starting center fielder for the entire 2014 season. While he struggled at the plate last year, to the tune of a grisly .198/.265/.266/.531 slash line, he's been a hot hitter in Triple A this season.
Bradley is hitting .315 with nine home runs, 27 RBIs and a .389 on-base percentage in 64 games with the PawSox this season. He has two multi-homer games in his last four contests. Bradley looks vastly improved and major league-ready.
Beyond that, he might be the best outfielder on the Red Sox, Shane Victorino notwithstanding. Bradley has an outstanding arm and takes the most precise routes to balls, making tough plays look routine. The defensive aspect of his game should not be overlooked.
Surely he has earned another shot in the majors this year or next, whether it's with the Red Sox or another team.
Whether its Castillo, De Aza or Bradley (or some combination of them) in right field next season, that means the outfield will still look mostly the same.
Are you getting the picture yet? Aside from first base and perhaps right field (unless De Aza wins the job), the roster will likely look very much the same next year. Yet, this is a group that simply hasn't gotten it done this season.
As of today, the Red Sox are 11th in runs, 11th in slugging, 10th in OPS, and ninth in home runs among the 15 AL teams.
That should worry every Red Sox fan, and every member of the organization.
The Sox will likely enter next season with a rotation that consists of Clay Buchholz, the disastrous Rick Porcello (who will be in year-one of a four-year, $82.5 million contract), and rookie Eduardo Rodriguez.
Perhaps the Sox can move Wade Miley and the roughly $13 million he is due over the next two seasons. While that's reasonable money for a fifth starter, Miley has a pitiful 4.49 ERA and 1.37 WHIP this year. Those numbers are barely acceptable for a fifth starter.
The Red Sox needed three starters to round out their rotation last offseason, and this winter they'll need at least two more — if not three. And while the Sox attempted to go into the season without a true No. 1, they have surely learned their lesson by now. That cannot happen again.
In short, it's tough to be optimistic about next year's team. Cherington has handcuffed the organization with a series of bad, inadvisable signings and trades (and I haven't even mentioned Justin Masterson, Joe Kelly or Allen Craig).
The Red Sox will likely be stuck with the bad contracts of bad players next year and beyond.
That's more troubling than anything that's transpired in 2015, a year that will surely see the Red Sox finish in last place for the third time in just four years.
The future doesn't look bright, and that surely must have owner John Henry's attention. And it must make him angry.
If baseball management is a meritocracy, Ben Cherington won't have a job with the Red Sox next year.
But some poor bastard will be left to pick up the pieces, and clean up the rather large mess he's made of this team.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
After 89 games, or 55 percent of the 2015 season, the Boston Red Sox entered the All Star break at 42-47.
Somehow, being five games below .500 seems like a moral victory.
The Sox started the season fairly well, going 12-10 in April. But it was all down hill in May, when they went an abysmal 10-19. As bad as June seemed, the Sox went 14-14, and they're 6-4 so far in July.
As the break approached, the Old Towne Team seemed to have suddenly righted the ship.
They had won four straight games for the first time all year, and four straight series, before running into the Yankees last weekend. But the Sox proceeded to drop two of three to New York and lost all the momentum they had built over the previous two weeks.
Consequently, the next couple of weeks present a moment of truth for Boston.
The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is now just two weeks away, What was unimaginable on Opening Day is now a reality: The Boston Red Sox are actually in a position to be sellers.
Boston has the highest payroll in club history, yet finds itself in the basement of the AL East. Though it's just a 6 1/2 game deficit, first place seems a long way off.
With that in mind, the Sox might be willing to listen to offers on just about anyone at this point.
The trouble is that all the dead weight — the players who have woefully under-perfomed — will be the hardest to move.
What team wants Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval or Rick Porcello, considering their on-field struggles and bloated contracts? Likely, no one. The only way to move those players would be to pay most, if not all, the remaining money on their enormous, long term contracts. That's an ugly prospect.
The two players the Sox received for John Lackey last July — Joe Kelly and Allen Craig — were so bad that they are now at Triple-A. They are likely untradable as well.
The players other teams will ask about are the young, homegrown talents the Red Sox project as part of a bright future.
Would the Red Sox be willing to part with Mookie Betts, Xander Boegarts, or Blake Swihart? Not likely. The Sox are trying to build for the future from within, and homegrown talent is cheap. It allows for the acquisition of higher priced free agents.
More than anything else, the Red Sox need a staring pitcher to help anchor the staff. Both Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly have lost their spots in the rotation this season, and Clay Buchholz is now on the DL.
Among the 15 AL teams, Boston pitching is last in ERA (4.44), first in earned runs (392), first in runs allowed (419), and second to last in opponents' batting average (.266).
It doesn't seem likely that the Sox will be interested in a short term rental, such as Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, who will be a free agent at season's end. Cueto will be 30 next season, and we know how the Red Sox feel about free agent pitchers that age.
Will Cole Hamels be able to get the Sox over the hump this season? That doesn't seem likely, and the 31-year-old is owed big money over the next three to four seasons: $22.5 million in 2016-2018, with a $20 million club option for 2019 that includes a $6 million buyout. This means Hamels is owed at least $73.5 million, and up to $87.5 million, over the next four seasons.
Does Red Sox' management actually believe that a team with just one winning month this season is worth investing in even further? That seems dubious. But management is always thinking ahead.
Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported that the Sox top priority heading into the trade deadline is to target younger arms that are under control beyond the 2015 season.
The Sox might be willing to deal Jackie Bradley Jr. and/or Deven Marerro from their farm system, and certainly Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli, whatever their limited value may be.
Sadly, despite the weakness of the AL East, this season may already be lost. Only New York and Tampa have records above .500, yet the Red Sox seem incapable of surpassing them, much less advancing in the playoffs.
The Red Sox could be headed for their third last place finish in four years, a prospect that most of us couldn't have conceived during spring training.
That said, anything management can do to improve this club next year and beyond would be welcomed.
Though we thought we were done saying it, Red Sox fans, there's always next year?
Monday, February 23, 2015
The Red Sox have signed 19-year-o;d Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada for $31.5 million. However, because Boston exceeded its international signing pool allotment, it will pay a 100 percent tax on the signing, bringing the total cost to $63 million.
The Cuban teen was widely expected to land a bonus in the $40-50 million range, making this a steal for the Red Sox.
Moncada has been described as the best Cuban prospect in decades; better than Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, or Yoenis Cespedes when they left Cuba.
No Cuban player that age has "created so much hype among the Cuban baseball establishment since Omar Linares, the 1980s star widely regarded as the best talent ever from the island," wrote Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports last fall.
At 6'2", 200 pounds, Moncada has the body of a linebacker, but projects as a major league second or third baseman. While the teen played shortstop, second and third in Cuba, given his size and athleticism, he could probably play all three outfield spots in the majors too.
Moncada is a switch-hitter and has been described as a five tool player — a truly rare distinction.
Virtually every team in baseball coveted Moncada, who generated serious interest from a group that included the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Padres, Phillies and Brewers. The young phenom also had private workouts with the Tigers, Giants, Rangers and Rays.
The Yankees were viewed as the favorite to sign Moncada, making this a double victory by Boston.
Former Red Sox great, and Cuban native, Luis Tiant reportedly helped to persuade Moncada, who joins countryman Rusney Castillo as the second Cuban player signed by the Red Sox in the last seven months. Castillo signed to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal last August.
After leaving Cuba legally, Moncada has spent the last 14 months in baseball limbo. So, he will need to rid himself of the rust and rediscover his many skills.
As a result, Moncada will start his career in the minors, where he will likely spend the entire 2015 season. Once he arrives in the majors, he will be subject to the standard salary scale: three seasons near the league minimum, then three in arbitration. The $31.5 million is merely a signing bonus.
Moncada is known for his excellent bat speed and plus raw power. He also possesses plus speed, running the 60-yard dash in around 6.6 seconds.
Because the Red Sox went beyond the bonus pool allotment, they cannot spend more than $300,000 on an international amateur for the next two signing periods.
But, since they clearly believe that Moncada is better than any other player in the international pipeline for the next two years, he is worth the gamble.
After all, Moncada is viewed as a once-in-a-generation player.
In fact, Ben Badler of Baseball America writes that Moncada is now one of the top-10 prospects in all of baseball and ranks as the Red Sox’s top prospect, projecting him to become a power-hitting third baseman or second baseman.
The Red Sox, and their fans, may be celebrating this move for years to come.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Wade Boggs finished his 18-year career with a .328 batting average, .415 OBP, 3,010 hits, 1,412 walks, 578 doubles, 1,513 runs, and 1,014 RBI.
Eleven of Boggs' 18 seasons were spent in Boston, where he posted the vast majority of those numbers.
Boggs place in Red Sox history is quite secure. Twenty-two years after leaving Boston, the left-handed hitter remains second in batting (.338), third in on-base percentage (.428), fourth in walks (1,004), fifth in hits (2,098), fifth in doubles (422), and sixth in runs (1,067).
Yet, despite his greatness, and all of his many achievements, Boggs' No. 26 still hasn't been retired by the Red Sox after all these years.
Starting in 1983, Boggs won five batting titles with Boston, including four in a row from 1985 to 1988. The only other players to win four batting titles in a row are Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn.
Boggs also batted .349 in 1982, his rookie year, which would have won the batting title. But he was 121 plate appearances short of the required minimum of 502.
From 1983 to 1989, Boggs had seven consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits, an American League record. However, Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki later surpassed this mark, with 10.
Boggs' ability to hit the ball bordered on freakish.
In 1985, Boggs had 72 multi-hit games, a club record.
That year, Boggs also hit .390 with the count 0-2. Think about that for a moment.
In 1986, Boggs faced 3,059 pitches and swung and missed just 46 times.
In fact, Boggs struck out only 470 times in 7,323 plate appearances as a member of the Red Sox. That's just 6 percent of the time, which is simply amazing.
Yes, the man had hawk eyes.
The third baseman went to eight consecutive All Star Games with Boston, and 12 consecutive overall.
Considering all of the above numbers, how did it come to pass that Boggs ever played for another team? Well, the Red Sox simply let him walk away as a free agent.
Boggs batted a career-worst .259 in 1992, and the Red Sox didn't want him back. So, the free agent signed a three-year, $11 million deal with the Yankees in December of that year. New York offered him one more year than the Dodgers, who were also interested.
The perennial All Star quickly proved he wasn't washed up. As a member of the Yankees, he went on to make three straight All-Star appearances, had four straight .300-plus seasons, and even collected two Gold Glove Awards for his defense.
In 1996, Boggs helped the Yankees win their first World Series title in 18 years, which would ultimately be his only world title. The image of him riding around Yankee Stadium after Game 6 — on the back of an NYPD horse, with his index finger in the air — is burned into the minds of many Red Sox fans.
Boggs ultimately spent five seasons with New York, and then two with Tampa Bay, before retiring. But those seven cumulative years were still four less than the eleven he spent in Boston.
In fact, Boggs is enshrined in Cooperstown, wearing a Red Sox cap. Yet, his No. 26 has yet to be retired by the organization. Despite this, the Red Sox inducted Boggs into their Hall of Fame in 2004.
According the Red Sox' criteria, a player must end his career with Boston, among other things, for his number to be retired. Yet, that stipulation won't likely keep Boston from retiring Pedro Martinez's number this season.
Moreover, Carlton Fisk — who retired as a member of the White Sox, and played more seasons with Chicago than Boston — had his No. 27 retired by the Red Sox.
I think that any reasonable person would concur; it's finally time for the Red Sox to do the right thing and retire Wade Bogg's No. 26 this season.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Considering that the 2014 Red Sox went 71-91, we all knew that big changes were in store.
This offseason, Boston has added a number of new players, including Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley, and Rick Porcello.
At last season's trade deadline, the Red Sox added Joe Kelly and Allen Craig. Mookie Betts was called up at mid-season, and Cuban Rusney Castillo debuted with the Sox in September.
Gone from last year's club are Chris Capuano, Mike Carp, Rubby De La Rosa, Felix Doubront, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Will Middlebrooks, Andrew Miller, Jake Peavy, A.J. Pierzynski, and David Ross, among others.
In short, the 2015 Red Sox will look quite different from the group that broke camp last spring. Yet, this is almost an entirely different team than the one that won the World Series just 15 months ago.
In that time, the Boston roster has been almost completely overhauled. The scope of the makeover is rather stunning for a team that won it all so recently.
To follow is a look at all of the players from the 2013 Red Sox who are no longer with the team:
Jose De La Torre
(There are even more, but they were bit players: Rubby De La Rosa, Brayan Villarreal, Allen Webster, Alex Wilson)
If you weren't counting, that's 28 players who were on the roster just over a year ago and are now elsewhere.
So, what will the Boston roster look like on Opening Day 2015?
It's safe to assume that the Red Sox will carry the customary 12 pitchers: five starters and seven relievers.
Barring another trade or free agent signing, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson will comprise the rotation.
Craig Breslow (L), Tommy Layne (L), Edward Mujica (R), Junichi Tazawa (R), Koji Uehara (R), and Anthony Vavaro (R) will likely constitute six of the seven bullpen spots. Drake Britton (L), Zeke Spruill (R), and Brandon Workman (R) will probably compete for the final spot.
Consequently, the Sox will also likely carry the customary 13 position players. The starting lineup appears set.
Manager John Farrell has indicated that Mookie Betts will probably bat leadoff this season, followed by Dustin Pedroia in the second spot. Newcomers Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval will likely to slot into the heart of the batting order.
Farrell says he likes the idea of left-right balance in the middle of the order, with lefty David Ortiz batting third, followed by Ramirez (right-handed), Sandoval (switch-hitter) and Mike Napoli (righty).
Rusney Castillo, Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez will likely bat in the last three spots.
But the batting order accounts for just nine players, who will get the bulk of the playing time. At least one bench role remains unclear.
The trade of Yoenis Cespedes helped to clear an outfield logjam, but there are still at least six outfielders vying for five spots. Assuming that Jackie Bradley starts the season in Pawtucket, another outfielder still needs to be moved (Allen Craig?). The Sox currently have Ramirez, Castillo, Betts, Victorino, Craig and Daniel Nava (six players) contending for five outfield spots.
Here's a look at the projected lineup:
DH David Ortiz
C Christian Vazquez, plus backup Ryan Hanigan
1B Mike Napoli
2B Dustin Pedroia
3B Pedro Sandoval
SS Xander Bogaerts
Utility Brock Holt
RF Shane Victorino / Mookie Betts
CF Rusney Castillo
LF Hanley Ramirez
OF/1B Daniel Nava / Allen Craig
That amounts to 14 players for 13 available roster spots.
Something has to give. The Sox will likely allow Craig and Victorino to showcase their talents for other teams during spring training, allowing the veterans to prove that they are both healthy and productive. Each player could be in line for a big bounce back season. The Sox could get more value by holding onto them for another couple of months and letting their values rise.
There is no rush to make a move. Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Meyers on February 21, while position players report on the 25th. Boston opens the regular season on April 6 in Philadelphia.
So, unless Ben Cherington has a plan for a No. 1 starter, the only real questions at this point are the seventh bullpen spot and the fifth outfield spot.
One way or the other, the Red Sox 2015 roster will be quite different from a year ago, and wildly different from the squad that shocked the baseball world in October 2013.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Apparently, the Red Sox have gone hog wild in signing both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to five-year contracts worth roughly $100 million apiece (Ramirez will reportedly receive $88 million over four years, with a $22 million vesting option for a fifth year).
Ramirez rejected the Los Angeles Dodgers' $15.3 million qualifying offer earlier this month and became a free agent. That means the Red Sox will surrender a second-round draft pick for signing him. The Red Sox’ first-round draft pick (No. 7) is protected. That's good news.
But are these sound baseball moves? Let's start with the fact that Ramirez will be 31 next month and Sandoval is 28.
Sandoval is 5' 11", 245 lbs. That's a lot of weight for a guy that height, and it has led to concerns about how the Kung Fu Panda will age. Clearly, if people are comparing you to a panda, fictional or otherwise, you are large.
At age 28, Sandoval has already been regressing for four consecutive years.
Here are Sandoval's slash lines from 2011 to 2014:
That's worrisome. But the belief is that the switch-hitting Sandoval will use the wall at Fenway to his advantage as a left-handed hitter. The Sox desperately need another lefty bat in their lineup; they're far too right-handed at present.
Sandoval has struck out only 13% of the time during his big league career, and has never whiffed as many as 100 times in a season. He topped out at 85 Ks in 2014. Clearly, he has excellent plate discipline, something the Red Sox value greatly.
Despite his weight, Sandoval is still a good defender at third, and more mobile than a similarly built guy like Prince Fielder, who plays first. Additionally, adding a player who was instrumental in earning three World Series Championships is a bonus.
Ramirez is the best pure hitter in this year's free agent class. He won the NL bating title in 2009, and led the NL with a 1.040 OPS in 2013, a season in which he also hit .345 with 20 home runs in just 86 games.
The assumption is that the Sox will move him to left field. Given his defensive decline at shortstop in recent years, it's hard to imagine the Sox trusting him there next season.
However, Boston already needed to deal an outfielder (Yoenis Cespedes) to solve their outfield logjam. If the plan is to play Hanley in left, the Sox are back where they started even if they trade Cespedes. That would necessitate yet another trade of an outfielder.
Ramirez was said to be immature and a divisive clubhouse presence in Florida, where he wore out his welcome. It's not common for a team to give up on a young superstar, so it very telling that the Marlins shipped him to LA in 2012, during his age 28 season. We can only hope that at age 31, he has finally matured and will fall in line with the Red Sox.
Most worrisome, perhaps, is that Ramirez hasn’t played a full season since 2012. His injury history is reason for concern as he enters a five-year deal at age 31.
So, where do these signings (assuming they are officially announced) leave the Red Sox budget this offseason? After all, they still need to add two starting pitchers, and one of them could be Jon Lester, who was reportedly offered $110-$120 million by the team.
According to WEEI's Alex Speier, the Red Sox had roughly $45 million to spend after re-signing Koji Uehara. Let's say that Sandoval and Ramirez account for $39 million next season, that leaves $6 million to play with. Of course, there is no spending cap in baseball, but the Sox would still like to remain under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
Evidently, the Sox aren't done dealing yet, and they will clear some salary to obtain Lester, or some other star pitcher (James Shields?).
How the signings of Ramirez and Sandoval pan out remains to be seen. Clearly there is a lot of risk given the years and dollars involved, as well as Ramirez's durability and Sandoval's weight.
But these deals represent going-rate, free market prices for players of their caliber. San Francisco and San Diego reportedly offered similar deals to Sandoval, and If the Red Sox didn't offer that five-year mega deal to Ramirez, some other team surely would have (i.e. the Yankees).
The Sox struck quickly to shore up their left side infield defense with Sandoval, and they have surely improved their lineup as well. In a typical season, Ramirez bats .300, with 25 home runs. The only guy presently on the Sox roster that can do that is David Ortiz, and he's 39. In other words, that can't be relied on much longer.
Undoubtedly, the Red Sox can afford these contracts. But they still have lots of work to do.
Now they need to go out and get Jon Lester, and perhaps Cole Hamels too. Don't be surprised if Boston packages Xander Bogaerts in a deal to obtain the Phillies' star lefty.
According to Nick Cafardo, the Red Sox have already turned down a couple of trade proposals from the Phillies involving Hamels, and the two teams will likely reopen trade talks.
That would amount to a truly amazing offseason for Boston.
Friday, November 14, 2014
Yoan Moncada, a 19-year-old, switch-hitting middle-infielder from Cuba, is "the most intriguing free agent in the world," according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
Moncada is a greater sensation than either Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, or Yoenis Cespedes were when they left Cuba.
In fact, no Cuban player that age has "created so much hype among the Cuban baseball establishment since Omar Linares, the 1980s star widely regarded as the best talent ever from the island," writes Passan.
At 6-foot-2, 200-pounds, Moncada is a fast-twitch athletic machine that has big league scouts salivating.
At a showcase in Guatemala on Thursday, Moncada displayed excellent bat speed and plus raw power. He also showed his plus speed by running the 60-yard dash in around 6.6 seconds.
The Red Sox, who are believed to be among the front-runners for Moncada's services, had a big group at the showcase, led by vice president of player personnel Allard Baird.
In all, there were around 80-100 major league scouts on hand to see Moncada, including several top-level evaluators.
Moncada has played shortstop, second and third in Cuba, though scouts say he is less likely to play shortstop in pro ball.
The young Cuban is expected to fetch between $30 million and $40 million once he hits the open market.
Under baseball’s current collective-bargaining agreement, international free agents under 23 years old with fewer than five years’ experience in a professional league fall under the purview of MLB’s international bonus pool. This means that for every dollar a team goes beyond its allotted budget to sign international amateurs it must pay a 100 percent tax.
Houston has the highest allotted budget this season, at $4.94 million. The cost of Moncada is expected to greatly exceed that.
So, if a team offers Moncada $30 million, it will actually pay $60 million, since it will have to pay MLB an additional $30 million (100%) tax penalty for going over their allotted budget.
On top of that, if a team goes 15 percent beyond its pool, it cannot spend more than $300,000 on an international amateur for the next two signing periods.
The Red Sox have already exceeded their allotment by 15% (remember Rusney Castillo?). Going all in for Moncada would be a gamble. But if the Sox believe that he's better than any other player in the international pipeline for the next two years, they may throw caution to the wind and take that gamble.
MLB is trying to give the weakest teams a chance to compete for the best international free agents, not just the biggest spending, big market teams, such as the Red Sox. Yet, Boston may be willing to incur the above penalties to obtain a once-in-a-generation player.
Major League Baseball officially declared Moncada a free agent over the weekend. The next step before he can sign with any team is for the Office of Foreign Assets Control to unblock him. At that point the bidding will begin, and it is expected to be frenzied.
Moncada is viewed as the best amateur player available — better than any draft-eligible high school or college player in the country.
For that, the Red Sox may break the bank and pay heavy penalties.
If not, another team surely will.
Saturday, August 02, 2014
Yoenis Cespedes is the newest Red Sox slugger
What Ben Cherington and the Red Sox' baseball operations team pulled-off on Thursday —in a six-day span really — was nothing short of extraordinary.
The Red Sox stunned the baseball world, and their legion of fans, perhaps, by trading Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, John Lackey, Andrew Miller and Stephen Drew in quick succession.
That amounted to 28% of the Boston roster dealt in less than a week, which is simply amazing.
The Red Sox traded four Opening Day starters in the span six days, which may be unprecedented.
This much is certain: No team has ever traded three starters, and four pitchers total, from the previous World Series winner.
While the magnitude and scope of the deals may have been jaw-dropping, the fact that Cherington sought to remake the roster was not.
When your team is 48-60 (12 games below .500) and 12.5 games out of first place on July 31, you have to start planning for next season. Cherington did just that, and he did it wisely.
Rather than add additional prospects that might make the Red Sox better in 2016, 2017 or 2018, Cherington sought proven big league players who could impact the club immediately, making the esteemed Red Sox organization competitive again as soon as next season.
The Sox netted two All Stars — Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig — plus Joe Kelly, a 26-year-old righty who posted a 3.53 ERA in 2012 (16 starts), and a 2.69 ERA in 2013 (15 starts).
Moreover, Kelly isn't eligible for salary arbitration until after next season and is controllable through 2018.
Yes, for the cynics out there, each player has endured struggles.
This year, Cespedes is hitting .256 with a .303 OBP and .464 slugging mark, plus 17 homers in 101 games. Last season he put together a slash line of .240/.294/.442.
An OBP averaging .296 over two seasons doesn't fit the Red Sox' organizational philosophy of a patient plate approach geared toward getting on base regularly.
However, Cespedes, 28, has exceptional power from the right side of the plate, which should play well at Fenway Park. He averaged 25 homers a year in his first two seasons in Oakland, which has an enormous ballpark.
He's also the guy who won the last two All Star Game Home Run Derbies.
Additionally, the outfielder possesses an excellent arm and should hold plenty of hitters to singles, while keeping others from scoring.
Craig, a 29-year-old outfielder, has 7 homers and 44 RBI this season, while slashing .237/.291/.346/.638 in an off year.
However, in 2012, his breakout season, Craig hit 22 homers, 35 doubles and had 92 RBI. Last season, he had 13 homers, 29 doubles and 97 RBI, and was selected to the NL All Star team.
Even when his struggles this season are included, Craig has a career slash line of .291/.343/.460/.803 over parts of five seasons.
That's the kind of guy the Red Sox want in their lineup every day.
Kelly has a 4.37 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9, and a 54.3% groundball rate in 35 innings for the Cardinals this year. He won the team’s fifth starter job out of spring training, but injured his hamstring in mid-April and missed nearly three months.
Yet, no one should forget that this is a 26-year-old who posted ERAs of 3.53 and 2.69 over the last two seasons, respectively, and who has World Series experience. Kelly pitched in five post-season games over the past two seasons, posting a 3.68 ERA in the process.
All told, Cherington and his baseball operations staff added two power hitting outfielders (something they are sorely lacking at the minor league level) to the Boston roster, as well as a very talented and controllable young righty.
Then there's the matter of the prospects added in these deals.
In exchange for Jake Peavy, the Red Sox received minor league pitchers Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree, ranked the No. 2 and No. 7 players in the Giants' system. Escobar was also ranked the No. 56 prospect in the game by Baseball America.
For Andrew Miller, the Red Sox received minor league pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who might prove to be the best minor league player Boston netted in all of these deals.
Rodriguez entered the 2014 season as the No. 3 prospect in the Orioles' organization and the No. 65 prospect in MLB, according to Baseball America. The 21-year-old was ranked the league’s No. 6 left-handed pitching prospect, with Baseball America suggesting he projects as a back-end starter.
Baltimore had Rodriguez on a fast track to the big leagues and, according to other projections, he profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation arm. The left-hander could potentially impact the Red Sox starting rotation as soon as 2016.
Boston sent left-hander Felix Doubront to the Cubs in exchange for a player to be named later. The player will be sent to the Sox after the December Rule 5 draft. It's impossible to determine just what kind of talent that might produce, but we shouldn't count on much.
It was a minimal return for a 26-year-old lefty who is coming off two consecutive double-digit win seasons. But that's how far Doubront's stock has fallen this year. The Venezuelan is 2-4 in 10 starts, with a 5.22 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. In 58.2 innings, he struck out 43 while walking 24, which are both poor ratios.
Doubront has always had problems with motivation and conditioning, and showed up to spring training completely out of shape multiple times. The Red Sox gave him every opportunity to succeed, including a rotation spot in each of the last three seasons.
Doubront responded with a 4.47 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 69 career starts. He's never made as many as 30 starts, or thrown as many as 165 innings, in three years as a starter.
The Red Sox also received another draft pick when the A's included their competitive balance pick in the Lester deal. Since the Red Sox will lose the ability to offer a qualifying offer to Lester and receive a draft pick when it is rejected, the A's competitive balance pick will help to offset this.
As a former international free agent, Cespedes is not subject to the same rules as other upcoming free agents and cannot receive a qualifying offer from the Red Sox when he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season.
The Red Sox had no plans to bring back Peavy, Gomes, Drew or Doubront next season, so moving them now made perfect sense.
While the team may have had an interest in retaining Lackey on his $500,000 contract clause, there was no guarantee that the veteran wouldn't decide to simply sit out the season instead.
In exchange for Lackey, the Sox added a younger, cheaper starter and a corner outfielder/first baseman with above-average offensive skills.
The Sox would surely love to employ Lester and Miller next season, but both pitchers may be priced beyond the Red Sox' comfort zone in free agency.
The Sox now have an even greater wealth of minor league talent to use as trade chips in an effort to secure a frontline starter this winter. But they can also turn to the free agent market and seek a reunion with Lester.
However, given how negotiations went when there were no other teams involved, that seems less than likely.
It's a good bet that the Sox will make a run a Royals' starter James Shields when he becomes a free agent this offseason. The righty is AL East battle-tested and might be had on the same four-year, $70 million offer that Lester rejected.
One way of the other, the Red Sox surely won't enter next season with a rotation consisting of the enigmatic Clay Buchholz (who has never thrown 200 innings or made as many as 30 starts in a season), Joe Kelly, and three largely unproven quasi-rookies.
In the meantime, the Red Sox will use the season's final 54 games for player evaluation, to determine what exactly they have on their hands, and how they will construct the 2015 roster.
They will now be able to assess some of their top minor league pitchers.
Anthony Ranuado, Allen Webster, and perhaps even Matt Barnes, will be filtered into the rotation (along with Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa) in a low-pressure, non-playoff atmosphere. How each of them responds will go a long way toward resolving next year's rotation questions.
For most of them, there's not much more to prove in the minors. They're either ready for the majors now, or they may never be.
Lastly, by trading Drew, the Red Sox have freed up the shortstop postion for Xander Bogaerts once again, while allowing the rehabbed Will Middlebrooks a shot at his former position at third base.
Though each has roughly a season's worth of major league experience, both players are essentially auditioning for their roles going forward.
In short, it's time for both of them to deliver on all that promise.
These trades make what's left of the 2014 season (54 games) so much more interesting. The fans would rather watch rookies struggle, rather than seasoned veterans making millions of dollars annually.
We all want to see the stars of the future and, most importantly, the players who will comprise the Red Sox roster next year and beyond.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Despite being in the midst of the worst season in his 13-year career, Jake Peavy proved to be an excellent trade asset for the Boston Red Sox.
On Saturday, Boston sent Peavy to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for minor league pitchers Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree, both of whom were in Baseball America’s top 10 preseason ranking of the Giants' prospects.
That's an amazing return for a veteran pitcher who appears to be well into the downside of his once-great career.
Peavy has been struggling for most of the season, and that's reflected in more than just his 1-9 record.
Consider the following:
• The righty's 4.73 ERA is his highest in any season in which he's made at least 20 starts.
• His 1.43 WHIP is the worst of his career.
• He is averaging 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings, his lowest since 2003.
• His 3.3 walks per nine are also his worst rate since 2003.
• His 20 home runs allowed are the most in the American League.
And then there's Peavy's win-loss record, which is not entirely his fault.
Peavy is winless in his last 15 starts — the second-longest such streak in Red Sox history, behind only a 16-game drought that Jim Lonborg suffered in 1969.
However, Peavy has been the victim of poor run support this season; the Sox are averaging just 2.76 runs per game in his starts, the lowest figure for any qualifying starter in the American League.
No matter, the Red Sox got a tremendous return for a pitcher who is clearly having the worst season of his career, and who appears to be in a steady decline.
Furthermore, Peavy is scheduled to be a free agent after this season.
Though the Red Sox won the World Series with Peavy last season, his limited contributions were not a primary reason.
Over 10 starts and 64.2 innings with Boston in 2013, Peavy went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA. He also managed 45 Ks and 19 walks in those 64.2 innings.
It was a decent performance, but Peavy was hardly a difference-maker, much less a dominating starter.
Since arriving in Boston at the 2013 trade deadline, Peavy has looked like a shadow of the pitcher who won the NL Cy Young Award back in 2007, while also winning the pitching Triple Crown.
The fact that the Red Sox received two upper-level minor league pitchers — one a right-handed reliever, one a left-handed starter — in return for pending free agent is remarkable.
The St. Louis Cardinals expressed an interest in Peavy, but were primarily focused on picking up the remainder of his 2014 salary (approximately $5 million). The Cards didn't seem inclined to give up premium talent for a two-month rental of a fading pitcher.
That the Red Sox were able to extract two top-tier prospects from the Giants is a credit to the negotiating skills of Ben Cherington.
In the end, the two teams agreed to spilt the remaining $5 million on Peavy’s $14.5 million contract as part of the trade.
Peavy was not part of the Red Sox' 2015 plans, so there was no way they were going to extend a $14 million qualifying offer to him after this season.
Furthermore, Peavy wasn't helping the Sox this year. It was time to give Peavy's rotation spot to Brandon Workman and see what the 25-year-old can do over the season's final months. The Sox need to know if they can entrust a rotation spot to him out of spring training next year.
With all of that in mind, it was time to cut bait with Peavy. Yet, the Red Sox used that bait for a tremendous, and rather unexpected, haul.
Hembree was ranked as the Giants’ seventh-best prospect entering the year, and he was described by Baseball America as a potential late-innings arm.
The 25-year-old right-hander has a 3.89 ERA with 10.5 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings in 41 Triple-A relief appearances.
Escobar entered the season ranked No. 2 in the Giants system and No. 56 in the game by Baseball America.
However, the 22-year-old has struggled this season. Escobar is 3-8 with a 5.11 ERA, 7.8 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings in 20 starts for Triple-A Fresno.
Ultimately, the Red Sox got two of the top-10 players in the Giants' system for a two-month rental of Peavy, which is nothing short of stunning. Such an outcome was previously unimaginable.
Kudos to Ben Cherington. He was able to simultaneously plan for the future, while not hurting the team in the present.
Peavy is a great competitor and, by all accounts, a great teammate. He gave the Red Sox everything he had every time he took the mound.
The problem was, that just didn't add up to much anymore.
Saturday, July 12, 2014
With a Deep Pool of Prospects and Lots of Payroll Flexibility, Red Sox Well Positioned to Rebuild for 2015 and Beyond
When the Red Sox made their blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in August of 2012, they shed hundreds of millions of dollars in payroll obligations, as well as three All Star players.
At that moment, the Sox were entering a rebuilding phase and planned on using the immense talent in their farm system as a "bridge" to the future.
The Sox suddenly had ample money to spend as they saw fit. The future looked bright. But building a World Series winner appeared to be a process that would require at least a few years.
So, when the Red Sox instead won the World Series the very next season, they shocked the baseball world. Everything that needed to go right for the team did. Virtually every player performed at the top of his abilities and had a career year.
As amazing and improbable as last year's team was, this year's is just as confounding.
Even after winning three straight games — just their third winning streak at least that long this season — the Sox still find themselves nine games below .500 and 9/12 games out of first place.
The good news is that the Sox have 2 1/2 months to see what a roster full of rookies can do. This will provide time for players such as Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, and Rubby De La Rosa, for example, to adjust to the majors and prove their worth. They'll get over the rookie jitters and get used to the greater amount of travel, press and the higher level of competition.
Boston still has a number of highly valued prospects in the minors, and lots of payroll flexibility for next season. This will make building the next Red Sox World Series contender a fascinating process.
The contracts of Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Koji Uehara, David Ross, Craig Breslow, Burke Badenhop and Andrew Miller all come off the books after this season.
That leaves the Sox with less than $75 million in payroll obligations next year.
Mike Napoli and David Ortiz are each due $16 million. Shane Victorino will make $13 million, with Dustin Pedroia paid $12.6 million and Clay Buchholz $12.25 million. Edward Mujica is on the books for $4.75 million.
That's a total of just $74.6 million in commitments.
The rest of the roster will include five arbitration-eligible players — Junichi Tazawa, Daniel Nava, Felix Doubront, Mike Carp and Jonathan Herrera — none of whom are due large raises.
Another half-dozen players — Jackie Bradley Jr, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez, and, as a result of smart negotiating, John Lackey — will make the minimum salary or slightly more.
Even if the Sox re-sign Lester to a long term deal with an average annual value of $20 million per season, that would still leave the team an enormous amount of flexibility. The luxury tax threshold will remain $189 million in 2015.
So, while the 2014 season appears to be a loss, and perhaps a great disappointment, the Red Sox are well positioned for the years ahead.
By November, if not by the July 31 trade deadline, Ben Cherington and Co, will set about building the next World Champion team.
Saturday, June 28, 2014
Mike Napoli says the Red Sox offensive woes this season are the result of being a very different lineup from last season.
"I mean we're not the same team as last year. We're different. We're just not the same," said the Red Sox first baseman. "Everyone keeps on comparing us to last year, but it's different guys in here. We've just got to figure it out."
However, in large part, the Sox are indeed the same team as last year's World Series winners — on paper at least.
Let's go around the diamond:
David Ortiz is back at DH.
David Ross is back at catcher, albeit in a backup role.
Napoli is back at first base.
Dustin Pedroia is back at second base.
Stephen Drew is back at shortstop.
Johnny Gomes is back in left field.
Daniel Nava is back in left and right fields.
The Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to free agency, and Shane Victorino to the DL. But seven primary members of last year's lineup are still in place.
The Red Sox' problem is not the loss of Ellsbury and Salty; it's the abysmal performances of the guys that are still in the Sox lineup this season.
The Red Sox will be exactly halfway through the season after tonight's game, and most of the lineup's batting statistics are downright pathetic.
Just look at the numbers:
Napoli has just 9 homers, 11 doubles and 30 RBI.
Pedroia has 4 homers, 27 RBI and a slash line of .262/.334/.372.
Xander Bogaerts has 6 home runs, 19 RBI and a slash line of .254 /.334/.384.
Though David Ortiz has been the lineup's best run producer, with 19 home runs and 49 RBI, he has a slash line of .254/.355/.479, The former and the latter are well below his career averages.
A.J. Pierzynski has just 15 extra-base hits, to go along with a slash line of .250/.279/.353.
Jonny Gomes has just 11 extra-base hits and a slash line of .235/.335/.361.
Daniel Nava has just seven extra-base hits, five RBI and a slash line of .223/.313/.308.
Jackie Bradley Jr. has 17 extra-base hits and a slash line of .209/.289/.298.
David Ross has eight extra-base hits, five RBI and a slash line of .174/.237/.337.
The above numbers look like the stats of A-ball hitters trying to play in the majors.
Brock Holt, a minor league player that most fans were hardly familiar with prior to this season, is the team's best hitter.
The Sox rank 26th in the majors in scoring. Their .367 slugging mark is the worst in the AL, and is 28th in the majors.
Napoli (and perhaps some of his teammates as well) is in denial. The Red Sox problems have nothing to do with the guys that are no longer with the team and everything to do with the ones that still are.
To be clear, the Red Sox have just three players slugging over .400, which speaks volumes about how pathetic this lineup is.
We're halfway through the season, and just one Sox hitter has more than nine home runs.
Just two Red Sox hitters are batting above .262.
Need I say more?
Last year, almost every hitter in the lineup had a career year. Success bred more success. It became contagious.
This year, failure and ineptitude have bred more of the same. They have spread like viruses through the Sox lineup.
The Red Sox have been stricken by apathy and complacency. This team needs a trade to break the spell of listlessness that afflicts them.
It may be too late to make a playoff push, but, at the least, upper management should allow John Farrell to field a team each night that possesses some passion, fire and competency.
The current lineup is an embarrassment to this great franchise. Surely, the Red Sox' dedicated fans deserve a team worth rooting for down the stretch — even if it is playing for nothing more than self-respect and genuine competitiveness.
Friday, June 20, 2014
Roger Clemens shows off the ball he used in his 20-strikeout game.
On the night of Tuesday, April 29, 1986, 23-year-old righthander Roger Clemens took the mound at Fenway Park to little fanfare. It was just the 18th game of the season, and a mere 13,414 fans were sprinkled throughout the ballpark.
They had no idea that they were about to witness history. Nor did anyone else.
In fact, there was just one photographer stationed in the photographers' well on the first base side to record what was about to unfold.
There was good reason that no one was expecting anything special from Clemens that night; he was making just his fourth start since having arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder only eight months earlier.
The right-hander's torn labrum had healed quite well, but no one knew it at the time.
Midway through the 1985 season, Clemens's career was in danger of being derailed. His shoulder was hurting so much that he could barely lift his pitching arm, which limited him to pitching in just 15 games that season.
In August, Dr. James Andrews was enlisted to remove cartilage near Clemens' rotator cuff via arthroscopic surgery, which was a relatively new procedure at the time.
No one knew what would become of Clemens when the 1986 season rolled around.
But on this night, it was immediately clear that Clemens' shoulder was healthy and fully healed.
The hurler struck out the first three Mariners he faced, all swinging, and then fanned two of the three in the second inning.
Bob Costas recounts that magical evening here.
When it was all said and done, Clemens threw a complete game, allowing just one run on three hits.
But the main thing all 13, 414 fans in attendance would remember was that Clemens blew away the Mariners' hitters all night long.
The right hander made history that night, becoming the first pitcher in Major League history to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game.
Watch Clemens recount his history-making performance here.
But the fans weren't the only ones who were impressed that evening. Even the officials were amazed.
"Home plate umpire (Vic) Voltaggio told a batboy after the seventh inning, 'This is the best pitching performance I've ever seen,'" wrote Columnist Leigh Montville in Sports Illustrated.
Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson are the only other pitchers to strike out 20 batters in nine innings. But Clemens was the first, and he also accomplished the feat twice.
More than 10 years after his 20-strikeout mastery of Seattle, Clemens matched his legendary accomplishment on September 18, 1996 against Detroit, at Tiger Stadium.
This second 20-strikeout performance occurred in Clemens third-to-last game as a member of the Red Sox.
Monday, June 16, 2014
The Red Sox could be without at least three members of their 2014 starting rotation next season.
Both Jon Lester and Jake Peavy will become free agents when this season concludes, and John Lackey may choose to sit out the 2015 season rather than play for the Red Sox at the league minimum.
The Red Sox had language inserted into Lackey's contract stipulating that in the event he missed extensive time due to an elbow problem, the team would get control of him for an extra year at the league minimum (roughly $500K).
At age 30, Lester will earn $13 million this year, the most he has made in any season. The Red Sox need to ask if he will get better and be more valuable in his 30s than he was in his 20s. Is he worth $20-$25 million per season over at least five years?
The Sox reportedly made Lester a four-year, $70 million offer earlier this season, which he promptly rejected.
Yes, the Red Sox can afford Lester. But is such an expensive, long-term investment in a pitcher in his 30s prudent?
Peavy will make $14.5 million this season, meaning he will be overpaid. Next year's major league qualifying offer will be in the range of $15 million for a one-year deal. The Red Sox have to determine if they think that Peavy is worth that much, or if any team will offer him a high-dollar, long term deal.
In my estimation, he is not worth that cost, and he belongs in the National League.
On the open market this winter, Lackey would likely get at least two years (maybe three) at $15 million per year. If he decides that pitching for the minimum is not worth the injury risk, and would potentially jeopardize a long term deal beginning in 2016, Lackey might just choose to sit out the 2015 season.
It would be a reasonable decision. Why take the risk?
With all of that in mind, the Red Sox are thinking beyond this season in their quest for controllable starting pitching. That's why the Sox could still be buyers at the trade deadline, even if they are out of playoff contention.
According to multiple reports, the Sox have been scouting Cubs' pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is 2-6 this season with a 2.77 ERA. The 29-year-old has struck out 82 batters over 91 innings of work.
It's been reported that the Cubs previously offered Samardzija a five-year contract in the $60-million to $65-million range, which he rejected. However, it may not be all about the money.
The pitcher is also said to be concerned about the Cubs' timeline to become competitive again. Chicago has endured four straight losing seasons, and is well on its way to a fifth.
Samardzija is controlled through the 2015 season via arbitration. He will be highly coveted at the deadline and will likely have big price tag. The Sox will probably need to part with at least three top prospects to land him.
But, Samardzija will be 31 after the 2015 season, when he is scheduled to become a free agent. Why would the Red Sox be inclined to give him a big payday at age 31 if they won't give one to Lester at age 30?
Additionally, there has long been speculation that the Sox have interest in Phillies' starters Cliff Lee (age 35) and Cole Hamels (age 30).
Lee has a large contract and isn't healthy at the moment. He is owed $25 million in 2015, and there is a $27.5 million club option for 2016, with a $12.5 million buyout. That's $27.5 in guaranteed money, and it could be as much as $52.5 million over two years.
If Lee is traded this season, it would most likely be a post-waiver deal since he’s unlikely to be healthy enough for a trade before the July deadline.
Hammels is owed $22.5 million each season through 2018, totaling $90 million. There is also a $20 million club option for 2019, with a $6 million buyout. This means that any team acquiring Hamels will be on the hook for at least $96 million over four more seasons, and up to $110 million for the next five.
The Red Sox will have some difficult, yet interesting, choices to make in the coming months. But, one way or another, they need to address their starting rotation for the long term. And they may begin doing that as soon as next month, despite their dwindling playoff hopes.
Monday, June 09, 2014
Due to injuries and poor performance, the Red Sox roster and lineup have been in disarray this season.
Once Will Middlebrooks went on the disabled list due to a fractured right index finger, the left side of the Red Sox infield went into a state of flux.
Initially, the Sox turned to light-hitting utility man Jonathan Herrera to man third base, but that proved to be inadequate. Herrera has posted a slash line of .250/.328/.268/.596 this season.
Then the Sox signed free agent third baseman Ryan Roberts as a stopgap. But Roberts played in just eight games and, over 19 at-bats, posted a slash line of .105/.227/.105/.333. That wasn't sufficient for the Sox, who quickly designated the veteran after just 11 days.
The Red Sox eventually re-signed Stephen Drew, ostensibly, because their offense was weak and lackluster. But Drew is hardly the solution to that problem.
Here's Drew's slash line for each of the last three seasons:
Weak hitting. Weak on-base. Weak slugging. Drew has been consistently underwhelming for three straight seasons.
Will Middlebrooks, who will soon be activated from the DL, has more offensive upside than Drew.
Middlebrooks hit 32 homers over his first 615 major league at-bats, or roughly a full season's worth. That kind of power is hard to find in today's game.
In fact, right-handed power has become a lost commodity in the majors. Just 27 right-handed hitters drafted in 2000 or later have had as many as 30 homers in a single major league season.
The last right-handed hitter drafted and developed by the Red Sox who hit 30 homers in a season was Nomar Garciaparra, who launched 30 homers in 1997 and 35 in 1998.
So, the Sox haven't given up on Middlebrooks. They've seen enough to know that some genuine potential exists, assuming that Middlebrooks can simply stay healthy. To this point, that's been a struggle.
Yet, Stephen Drew was brought in to fill a void that he has no ability to fill.
The Red Sox real problems lie in the outfield, which has been dreadful this season. The team has gotten almost no production from its current group.
Here is the OPS for each member of the Sox' outfield, in descending order:
None of the above numbers is worthy of a starting role in the Sox outfield. In fact, most aren't even worthy of being in the majors.
Cumulatively, the Sox outfield has a .612 OPS, the worst, by far, in the majors. But it goes beyond that.
This group of Red Sox outfielders is historically bad.
The Sox outfield's OPS is the second worst of any group since 1974, only marginally better than the 2011 Seattle Mariners (.608).
And the Sox outfield's batting average is the absolute worst; heading into Monday night it is a combined .214.
Jonny Gomes is currently the Red Sox most offensively productive outfielder, and that's not saying much.
Through 137 at-bats this season, Gomes has posted a .234/.335/.387/.722 slash line, to go along with 5 homers and 24 RBI. Hey, at least he has those "intangibles."
Jackie Bradley Jr. is batting .203/.286/.294/.580. In other words, his slugging percentage is what his batting average should be.
Grady Sizemore is batting .222 /.291/.333/.624. This is the same guy that used to be a super star. His health is just fine. But two missed seasons have turned him into terrible baseball player.
So far, the Red Sox solution to all this futility was to sign the weak-hitting Drew. Everyone should have expected that Drew would be rusty after not playing competitive baseball since last October, and he has certainly lived up to that expectation.
Through 14 at-bats, admittedly a very small sample size, Drew has one hit, two walks and five strikeouts. As of today, he has posted a slash line of .071/.188/.071/.259.
This is what the Red Sox are getting for a $10 million, pro-rated contract this season.
When the Sox re-signed Drew, it was clear that their problem was the lack of offensive production from their outfield, not from their shortstop.
Yes, third base has been a black hole, but the Sox still believe in Middlebrooks and they knew he would soon return from the DL.
Wouldn't you rather see Brock Holt at third every day, with Bogaerts still manning shortstop? Yeah, they probably would too.
The Sox still need to address their shortcomings in the outfield, but they now have 10 million fewer dollars to fill that pressing need. That's not a paltry sum, given that the Sox' opening day payroll was nearly $163 million, the fourth highest in baseball, according to the Associated Press.
However, the luxury tax threshold for this season is $189 million, leaving the Red Sox some room to maneuver, if they think this current team is worth investing in. Ultimately, the Sox have roughly $16 million to play with this summer, if they so choose.
Whether it's one of their own minor league prospects (Mookie Betts?), or a trade for a proven major league outfielder, somewhere down the line — likely sooner than later — a change is gonna come.
At the least, the fans and the ever-important NESN ratings demand it.
This team is tough to watch, and Stephen Drew won't fix that.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
According to multiple sources, shortstop Stephen Drew is back with the Red Sox on a one-year deal. The pro-rated contract will pay Drew based on the $14 million he would have received from the Sox if he had accepted the qualifying offer they made him last fall.
That means Drew will receive roughly $10 million for the remainder of this season.
Will Middlebrooks has been ineffective and injured this season. The third baseman is batting just .197, with a .305 OBP, .324 slugging, 2 homers and 9 RBI. Additionally, Middlebrooks has committed two errors in just 21 games.
It's easy to speculate that Drew will move into the shortstop position he occupied last year and that Xander Bogaerts will move back to third, where he supplanted Middlebrooks in the 2013 postseason.
However, Bogaerts has also been struggling at the plate this season, posting a 269 average, .369 OBP, .379 slugging, 2 homers and 7 RBI. He also leads the Sox with four errors in 41 games.
Drew played excellent defense at shortstop last season, and posted a .777 OPS, which ranked second in the AL at the position. But that really reflects just how little offense the typical shortstop now provides in the post-steroids era.
Let's break down Drew's numbers a bit.
Drew batted .253 last season, which is hardly exciting. In addition, he posted a .333 OBP, meaning he didn't walk much, or help his chances of getting on base. And he slugged just .443, which is not particularly inspiring.
To top it off, Drew was horrendous in the post-season, batting just .111.
So, it's hard to argue that Drew's absence has been the source of the Sox' offensive woes this season. He's simply not a powerful offensive force any more.
No reasonable person should assume that Drew, who hasn’t faced live pitching since October, will quickly find his timing in late May/early June. Expecting Drew to be an impact player for the Sox is unrealistic. It may even be fanciful.
As I wrote the other day, the Red Sox' offensive problems are not related to the guys who haven't been here in 2014, such as Drew or Jacoby Ellsbury. The trouble lies with the guys that are still here. They're just not getting it done.
With the exception of 38-year-old David Ortiz, virtually every batter in the Sox lineup has been underperforming. It's the exact opposite of last year.
Is Drew really the solution to these offensive troubles? I, for one, am quite skeptical.
Here's Drew's slash line for each of the last three seasons:
Weak hitting. Weak on-base. Weak slugging. In my world, that's not a $14 million-per-year player. And it's the reason that no one was willing to meet Drew's demands of a long term deal, with an average annual value of anything near $14 million. It wasn't simply about draft-pick compensation.
Drew's weak hitting isn't merely an aberration of the 2013 season; it's been three years in the making.
Drew could certainly help to shore up the Sox' defense on the left side of the infield. He was second among American League shortstops last season with a .984 fielding percentage.
But any regular observer of this team knows that defense isn't the reason the Sox have a losing record on May 20th.
The problem is offense, and the Sox still haven't found the solution for that.
Quite clearly, Stephen Drew is not the answer.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
The Red Sox have now played just over a quarter of the 2014 season and find themselves at 20-22. That's something that most of us didn't anticipate when the season began.
At some point, the Red Sox record will reflect who they truly are, but that time may not yet have arrived.
The American League is presently a bastion of mediocrity — at best. Only seven of the 15 AL clubs have records over .500, and they're now playing National League clubs on a fairly regular basis.
This leaves the defending World Series Champions poised to strike and to eventually separate themselves from the pack.
Sure, there is reason for concern right now. But this season is a long way from over.
On the bright side, the Sox are still just 3 games out of first place in the rather weak, or highly competitive — depending on how you view it — AL East.
The first-place Yankees are just four games over .500, and the division is in a daily state of flux. As of yesterday, just six AL teams had a winning record.
The truth is, this division and, in fact, the whole league remain wide open. But the Sox need to stop flailing, continually taking one step forward, followed by one step backward. The Sox have lost four of their last five games, dropping back-to-back series in the process.
The Red Sox' lineup features three players who are 25 years old or younger: Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. The problem is, all three players are struggling mightily.
Here's a look at how the three players are faring this season:
Season: .254 average, .360 OBP, .348 slugging, 1 homer, 5 RBIs
JACKIE BRADLEY JR.
Season: .200 average, .301 OBP, .296 slugging, 0 homers, 13 RBI
Season: .197 average, .305 OBP, .324 slugging, 2 homers, 9 RBIs
But the Sox' struggles go well beyond their youthful trio.
David Ortiz is the only Sox player with more than 27 at-bats that is batting at least .300. Big Papi also leads the team with 11 homers. The next closest player is Mike Napoli, who has five.
Ortiz, currently slugging .572, is the only Sox player slugging over .400.
Amongst Red Sox' regulars, Shane Victorino is third in on-base percentage at .316, which is alarming.
The team's offensive ineptitude has been on display over the last two games against Detroit, in which the Sox have scored a grand total of one run.
Here's how the Sox rank offensively among the 15 AL clubs:
Runs: 173, 10th
Home runs: 34, 11th
Slugging: .379, 11th
Total bases: 540, 12th
Batting average: .244, 12th
While Red Sox' pitching has been better, it hasn't been exceptional. Even on the mound, there have been struggles.
Amongst AL teams, the Sox starters are:
12th in batting average against, at .268
10th in ERA, at 4.12
9th in wins, with 14
4th in innings, at 251
6th in walks, at 86
2nd in K's, with 232
So, while there are some clear issues with the rotation, the team's struggles can clearly be laid at the feet of its offense, or lack thereof.
Given that last season the Sox were first in the majors in runs (853), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.446), while posting the second highest batting average (.277), it's reasonable to expect this team to get hotter along with the weather.
Yes, the Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury, but he has a rather pedestrian slash line of .278/.357/.404 so far this season. Moreover, the Yankees' center fielder has just 1 homer and 14 RBI. Based on the numbers so far, Ellsbury isn't yet a huge loss for the Sox, or the reason for their offensive woes.
How about the absence of Stephen Drew? Well, considering that last season he posted a stat line of .253/.333/.443, it's also hard to argue that his loss has been a big blow to the Sox offense.
The problem is not with the guys that are gone; the trouble lies with the guys that are still here. They're just not getting it done.
Yes, the Sox took some risks by going with three young, relatively unproven players at key positions around the diamond: third base, shortstop, and center field.
But given the minor league track records of Bogaerts and Bradley, and the fact that Middlebrooks hit 32 homers in 615 major league at-bats (essentially a full season's worth) over his fist two seasons, you have to think that they are all going through the typical travails of young players trying to adjust to the rigors of the major leagues.
Pitchers have made their adjustments to each of them. Now it's time for each of them to make their own adjustments.
Given that it's mid-April, there's still time for that to happen. But it would be really beneficial to the Red Sox' fortunes if it happened sooner than later.
For now, the Sox will have to rely on their veterans, as they should. But for that to happen, guys like team-leader Dustin Pedroia will have to give them more than his .277/.349/.399 slash line, along with his 2 homers and 13 RBI.
That isn't cutting it. And we all know he's better than that.
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Jake Peavy, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will be critical to the Red Sox success this year.
It's been said time after time: Pitching wins championships. That old adage certainly applied to the 2013 Boston Red Sox. How the Sox fare this season will once again rely on their starting pitching, as well as their bullpen.
The Red Sox' 2014 rotation will be comprised by mainstays Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy (who joined the club last July 31) and Clay Buchholz.
Some of the above group carried a heavy workload en route to winning the World Series last season. The Sox played an extra month of baseball in 2013, which ultimately shortened their offseason by a month. That may have some carry over into 2014.
However, the 2013 post-season aside, this particular Red Sox rotation isn't a bunch of innings eaters.
Left-hander Jon Lester threw a career-high 213.1 innings last regular season, then added 34.2 more in the postseason. Lester was the only member of the staff to reach the 200-innings threshold.
Right-hander John Lackey worked 189.1 innings (215.1 including the postseason), his highest cumulative total since 2007.
The always fragile Clay Buchholz threw just 108.1 innings last season, and has never thrown more than 189.1 in any of his seven seasons in the majors. That's troubling.
Jake Peavy threw a combined 144.2 innings last year between Chicago and Boston, and the righty has pitched 200 innings only once since ‘07.
Meanwhile, left-hander Felix Doubront (26) is the only starter under age 29, and he threw a career high 162.1 innings last season.
The Sox will need this group to pitch a lot more innings than that this season in order to be a playoff team.
Here are the vital stats of the Red Sox starters in 2013:
Lester: 15-8, 33 starts, 3.75 ERA, 67 BB, 177 Ks, .253 OBA, 1.29 WHIP
Buchholz: 12-1, 16 starts, 1.74 ERA, 36 BB, 96 Ks, .199 OBA, 1.02 WHIP
Doubront: 11-6, 27 starts, 4.32 ERA, 71 BB, 139 Ks, .261 OBA, 1.43 WHIP
Lackey: 10-13, 29 starts, 3.52 ERA, 40 BB, 161 Ks, .247 OBA, 1.15 WHIP
Dempster: 8-9, 29 starts, 4.57 ERA, 79 BB, 157 Ks, .256 OBA, 1.45 WHIP
Peavy: 4-1, 10 starts, 4.04 ERA, 19 BB, 45 Ks, .230 OBA, 1.16 WHIP
The Red Sox had five other pitchers make at least one start, and as many as seven starts.
With that rotation, which doesn't look especially impressive on paper, the Sox won the AL East and the World Series.
While some of the above numbers may seem a bit pedestrian, what the Sox' rotation had in spades last season (notwithstanding Clay Buchholz) was good health. For the Sox to have anywhere near the same level of success this year will require more of the same.
Lester has proven to be a workhorse throughout his career, having thrown at least 200 innings in five of the last six seasons. Given his history, there's every reason to expect that he'll do it again this year.
If Lackey can repeat his performance from last year, which was customary for him when he was with the Angels, he will be a formidable presence in the Sox rotation once again. Being that his elbow woes are now well behind him, that's also a reasonable expectation.
Given his age, Doubront appears poised for a breakout season. The left-hander has the raw stuff; he just needs to harness and control it, consistently throw strikes and not issue so many walks. If he trusts himself, and the defense behind him, Doubront could establish himself as one of the best young lefties in the game this year.
For his part, Peavy, a former Cy Young winner, says he is feeling healthier and stronger than at any time since his days with the Padres. Considering that San Diego was where Peavy won his Cy Young award and had his greatest individual success, that's encouraging.
Buchholz is the big question mark. Though he may be the best pure pitcher on the Sox staff, he's never proven that he can stay healthy and consistently make his scheduled starts. It's quite telling that since Buchholz made his big league debut in 2007, he has never made as many as 30 starts in a season. That needs to change this year.
The Red Sox are going with the customary seven-man bullpen, and will start the season with the following relievers:
This group looks better, on paper at least, than the 2013 pen. To begin with, both Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, who each endured elbow surgeries last year, are now gone. Given their limited contributions last year, their absence this season is an immediate upgrade. Malcontent Alfredo Aceves is also gone. It all amounts to addition by subtraction.
The Sox also used relievers such as Pedro Beato and Matt Thornton last year. Both were ineffective, and both are now gone.
In place of those relievers, the Sox brought in former St. Louis closer Edward Mujica, who saved 37 games for the Cardinals last season, plus Burke Badenhop, who posted a 1.19 WHIP over 62.1 innings for Milwaukee last year.
Despite being a starter throughout his nine-year career, Chris Capuano also joins the Sox pen this year. The Massachusetts native gives the Sox additional starting depth right out of their own bullpen.
Lefty Craig Breslow has started the season on the 15-day DL, and should join the Sox a mid-month. So, the team's pitching depth has already come into play. Brandon Workman, who went 6-3 with a 4.97 ERA last season, takes Breslow's spot for now.
The Sox view Workman as a starter. But he was so effective last season that they are glad to have him on their roster, even if it's in a bullpen role for the time being. Most impressively, Workman fanned 47 batters in 41.2 innings last season, while surrendering just 15 walks.
The Sox also have some excellent minor league-depth options that include the following:
Rich Hill (L)
Drake Britton (L)
Alex Wilson (R)
Rubby De La Rosa (R)
Dalier Hinojosa (R)
The Sox also have additional starting depth in the minors, including righties Allen Webster, Anthony Ranuado, and Steven Wright. Webster and Ranuado are expected to assume rotation spots in the next couple of years, perhaps as soon as next year.
In sum, due to their veteran presence and bounty of youthful talent, the Red Sox appear poised to make another run at the Fall Classic. Naturally, repeating is difficult; no team has done it since the 1998-2000 Yankees.
However, if the Sox can stay healthy, they have enough quality pitching to give it another run in 2014.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
There are roughly two weeks remaining in spring training, and the Red Sox began making initial roster cuts today. There were no surprises; 12 minor league players were reassigned to minor league camps.
At this point, the Sox' roster appears mostly fixed, with few questions. The primary one is, of course, who the everyday center fielder will be: Jackie Bradley Jr. or Grady Sizemore. More on that in a moment.
The Red Sox will carry the customary 12 pitchers; five starters and seven relievers. The rotation, notwithstanding the retirement of Ryan Dempster, will have no surprises at the outset.
Manager John Farrell has already indicated the order of the starting rotation as Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz.
If that order seems odd, it's a testament to the great spring that Doubront is having, as well as a clear desire to diminish the workload and expectations of Buchholz. It will also give the Sox, and Buchholz, a strong advantage over other team's fifth starters.
However, putting Buchholz in the fifth spot may only be a temporary arrangement, perfect for the first month of the season, or so. The rotation is always subject to change given injuries, days off, rainouts, and how a certain pitcher matches up with another team's pitcher at any given time. For example, a team's No. 1 or No. 5 pitcher doesn't always lineup against the other team's equivalent.
The bullpen, though mostly set, is not yet fully formed. There is still at least one spot in play.
The Sox will likely go with Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Burke Badenhop, Edward Mujica, and lefties Andrew Miller and Chris Capuano, Given that lefty Craig Breslow just threw his first spring bullpen this week, and seems to be having some sort of shoulder issue, it appears likely that he will begin the season on the disabled list.
That leaves one open bullpen spot, with plenty of competition.
Farrell has been impressed with Drake Britton so far in camp, and it appears that the lefty is in the running for a bullpen role. But Brandon Workman proved himself at the big league level last year and even pitched in the World Series. It's tough to argue that he's not worthy of a roster spot.
However, both Britton and Workman have options remaining, so there is no danger of losing either player if they are assigned to Pawtucket to start the season.
Beyond that pair, the Sox will have a ton of depth options at the Triple-A level: Alex Wilson (R), Joe Mijares (R), Rich Hill (L), Francisco Cordero (R), Dalier Hinojosa (R), and Rubby De La Rosa (R) will all be waiting for a call.
The Red Sox infield is pretty well settled at this point. A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross will split time behind the plate, with the former expected to catch approximately 100 games. The Sox will have Mike Napoli at first, Dustin Pedroia at second, Will Middlebrooks at third and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. Newly acquired Jonathan Herrera is projected as the utility infielder.
David Ortiz, of course, will be the designated hitter and bat third.
That's seven infielders, plus the DH. Add in the 12 pitchers and we're up to 20 roster spots, leaving five remaining.
The outfield is where it gets a bit more complicated. There are six players currently vying for five spots.
Gold Glove winner Shane Victorino will patrol right field once again, and that's about the only certainty. However, it seems likely that the combination of Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes will again form a left field platoon.
Center field is where the action is. Bradley Jr. was the heir apparent after Jacoby Ellsbury departed for New York. But Sizemore has surprised everyone in spring training. He's shown speed, agility and even good timing at the plate, which is particularly amazing for a guy who missed the last two seasons. The question is how often, and how many games, Sizemore will be able to play this year.
The above group amounts to five players for five outfield spots. But that doesn't account for Mike Carp, who posted a .296/.362/.523/.885 slash line last season, along with nine homers and 43 RBI in 216 at-bats.
Despite his versatility in playing left and first, Carp is battling for a roster spot and could be the odd man out. He has no minor league options remaining, which is why Seattle traded him to Boston at this time last year.
According to multiple reports, scouts from the Pirates and Brewers have been at Red Sox camp keeping an eye on Carp, who leads the Sox with three homers (tied with Bryce Brentz) in 21 at-bats this spring.
Barring an injury, something has got to give: someone from that group of six outfielders has to go. While Carp may seem like the most likely candidate for a trade, the Red Sox really like his defensive versatility and his ability to come off the bench and deliver key pinch hits.
There is a rather simple solution.
Don't be surprised if Bradley starts the season back in Triple-A. The young outfielder has been struggling this spring, posting a .208/.296/.333 line, with just five hits (one for extra bases) in 24 at-bats, and more strikeouts (six) than walks (three).
Additionally, Bradley still has options remaining and assigning him to Pawtucket would allow the Sox to keep Carp on the roster and use Bradley as a depth option down the line this season.
After all, the Grady Sizemore experiment / feel good story is just one play away from ending badly.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Stephen Drew, who last fall rejected the Red Sox qualifying offer — a one-year contract of $14.1 million — remains jobless even as spring training rolls on. Drew is still said to be looking for $14 million per season, the same amount that he previously declined.
But here's the reality, Mr. Drew: When you roll the dice, sometimes you lose.
Being attached to draft pick compensation has undoubtedly had an impact on Drew's market.
But Drew's offensive performance the last three seasons has likely played a role as well.
Here's Drew's slash line for each of the last three seasons:
Weak hitting. Weak on-base. Weak slugging. In my world, that's not a $14 million-per-year player.
Yet, Drew doesn't think the above statistics have anything to do with the lack of interest in him this offseason. Nor does he seem to recognize that perhaps he's simply asking for too much money given his three-year track record.
It's been reported that the Red Sox have offered Drew a two-year contract for an undisclosed sum, and the Mets have reportedly discussed a salary of around $9.5 million for Drew, which is what he earned last year with the Sox.
But that's just not enough for Drew, who seems to place a higher value on himself than anyone else. In Drew's estimation, he's not the problem. The problem, in his view, is the draft pick compensation system.
Here's what Drew told CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman on Friday:
“You hate to say it, but it really messes up free agency for guys who worked hard. A lot of people don’t want to give up that first-round pick, and that’s what it boils down to. It’s unusual. I understand draft picks, but at the same time, you have a guy who’s proven as very good on defense and a top five shortstop if you look at it.”
“Our union has been really good. But I think we really have to look at this. Is this really good for free agency? Our players need to sit back and look at it and see what we need to do about it.”
Boo hoo. Life is tough. Again, Drew was offered a guaranteed salary of $14.1 million by the Red Sox for this season, and he turned it down because it wasn't enough. He thought he could get more on the open market. Other players did the same (such as Jacoby Ellsbury, for example), and some of them got paid.
But not everyone. Nelson Cruz turned down the $14.1 million qualifying offer made by the Rangers and last week ended up settling for $8 million from Baltimore. He rolled the dice and he lost. That's the name of the game when you gamble. Bets don't always go your way.
That's the bitter reality Stephen Drew hasn't come to grips with yet. But eventually he may have to. He has no leverage at this point, and the baseball clock is ticking.